- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - With urgency, Pat Holman knocked on yet another door on a recent summer afternoon, searching for family members of a person who died in a traffic crash.

Holman was joined by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer, she said, following what seemed like tiny bread crumbs across the city. They had an address and phone number that belonged to the decedent, but no relatives lived there. Neighbors shrugged and shared what they knew, which led to more doors.

But each new door they knocked on, Holman said, seemed to just lead to another one.

Then, after nearly three hours, they finally knocked on the right door. Holman sat down with the man’s family members and told them of his death. She was there to listen to them, and to offer a consoling presence.

As a chaplain, she’s part of an IMPD team tasked with this important work. In some cases, like this one, relatives are hard to find. Aided by police officers, she searches for them with the difficult thought in the back of her mind that someone is dead, and no one knows.

“You can’t just say, ‘I haven’t found anybody. I give up. I’m going home,’ ” said Holman, 63.

For Holman, it’s also personal. About 15 years ago, her niece found out her father had died by watching the news. It was impersonal and painful. It compounded the grief.

?These days, she said, it feels like she is racing against not only the news media, but social media to deliver notification to family members in a personal way. Often, people will hear about deaths and post on Facebook. She pushes herself to work fast and doggedly to find family members before the news spreads in other ways.

Holman also ministers to police officers and family members of victims of homicide, suicide, infant deaths and other unexplained deaths.

With criminal homicides in Indianapolis up by more than 10 percent since last year, there are many doors to knock on, and many loved ones who are hurting.

In other cases, though, Holman is called out to scenes of fresh violence that are chaos. Family and friends are screaming and crying. People might be angry. Neighbors flock outside to watch police unspool yellow crime scene tape.

Holman’s job is to find family members and console them.

“I try to be the peace that’s in the midst of chaos,” she said.

Setting a foundation for others

Holman was a police officer for 32 years - and was retired for three years - before she stepped into her role as chaplain in June.

She became a police officer in 1979. She didn’t set out to break barriers and climb the ranks, though she did. Holman in 2002 rose to be the first African-American female captain at the Indianapolis Police Department.

Her beginning goals were simple, though. Growing up on the city’s west side, she admired a police officer who worked with kids at a neighborhood community center. She was one of them. So Holman decided she wanted to be a police officer to work with children.

She laughs today about how it’s the one job she hasn’t done. Though she has worked with children and young people throughout her career, it was never a specific role she had. She served as a patrol officer, worked in the investigations division, and even spent time on the force’s mounted patrol.

Holman worked with young female officers to study for promotional exams, if that was their goal. She encouraged them in their careers. She found herself in the position of paving a path for women behind her.

“Because I was hired in 1979, there were not a whole lot of African-American females doing what I was doing,” Holman said. “I think there was a responsibility for me to lay a foundation for others.”

She retired in 2013 and seemed to be heading into a quiet new phase of her life. But she said in her heart, she felt called to minister.

In the chaplain’s office, there are about 10 volunteer chaplains. Holman is the only staff member. A friend approached her when the former staff chaplain left the office. She prayed on the decision and spoke with friends. Should she trade in serene retirement for midnight telephone calls?

It’s an undeniably grim job. She’s called out at all hours, sometimes in the middle of the night, to listen and minister to people in their darkest moments.

Some friends and family struggled to understand why she would want to take a job in her later years that involved keeping her phone near her headboard, with the ringer set to loud.

But she wanted to help people. For about 20 years as a police officer, she volunteered for a police support team to offer peer support for fellow officers who have suffered through a traumatic incident. In some ways, she had already been doing chaplain work for decades.

IMPD Sgt. Jo Ann Moore was counseled by Holman in her worst hours. Moore’s son David Moore, also an IMPD officer, was shot and killed in 2011 during a routine traffic stop. Holman was Jo Ann Moore’s mentor and training instructor first at the police academy and later at the city’s police department.

“It’s the worst moment in your entire life as a mother to lose your son. To have someone who understands grief is just tremendous to lean on,” Moore said, speaking of her longtime friend. “If I needed something, she was there.”

‘Never just a number’

This year, murders in the city are showing signs of surging past the record-breaking numbers of 2015. The city is not alone in this, as murders jumped across the country last year.

IMPD officers responded to 118 criminal homicides as of Oct. 12. In the same time period last year, police had investigated 106.

IMPD Chief Troy Riggs told members of the media at a recent meeting that the No. 1 reason for this year’s killings is fights and arguments, highlighting social problems at the root of some of the deaths. The No. 2 reason for the killings, he said, is drugs.

But none of that concerns Holman.

The whys, the hows, the root causes do not factor into her ministry. Answers to those questions matter to the victims. They matter to a city trying to work on solutions.

For her, though, the focus is the people. Their pain.

“I don’t judge. I don’t try to ask what happened,” Holman said. “It’s not important.”

When she first arrives on scene, she takes direction from the officer in charge. She then looks for family members who need help. Some want to be consoled, and some don’t.

As a police sergeant, Moore said Holman’s presence as a chaplain at crime scenes allows officers to stay detached. They can focus on the evidence collection, and the job at hand.

“Police officers deal with death. We see it unfortunately every day,” Moore said. “Grief is very personal, very individualistic. That’s where the chaplain’s office steps in.”

Overall, Holman said she tries to offer a peaceful and calming presence. She tries to simply listen.

As the numbers of slayings rack up in the city, reported by the media in a churn of statistics, she sees the individual faces. She sees the family left behind.

“It’s never just a number,” she said. “Every homicide is a person.

“That’s the thing about death … You may have one person who died, but the number of people that person has touched can be unlimited.”

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Source: Indianapolis Star, https://indy.st/2dCIqSA

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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